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Blog At the Museum

MLS Mailbag No. 5

Hello and welcome to a weekly feature on in which I take your questions about the Museum of Life and Science and answer them in mailbag form. Hopefully, the final product is insightful to some degree, and we have a little fun along the way!


Do bees sleep? — Bob

A few MLS Mailbags back, Butterfly House Director Uli Hartmond and I answered a question about butterfly sleep, which is very different from how humans and other mammals sleep. But bees? Turns out our buzzy little buddies are a lot more like us than we might think.

Uli chipped in again for this question, this time sending me to a 2003 paper by Sauer, Kinkelin, Herrmann, and Kaiser, called The Dynamics of Sleep-Like Behaviour in Honey Bees. That’s right, y’all — I read my first academic paper since college (go Wolfpack).

According to Sauer et al., honeybees are big on getting quality rest and exhibit similar sleep behaviors to humans. Their bodies are relaxed and immobile, and body temperatures drop when bees fall asleep, just like us! But another way scientists track bee sleep cycles is through antennae movement, which is something we humans do not do when resting. Shocking, I know, but such is life without cranial sensory appendages!

There’s a lot of ongoing research around bees, but at this point, it’s still unclear what the duration and quality of sleep does for bees biologically.

I made zero puns throughout this whole answer. Bee proud of me.

Who is the oldest animal on campus? — thelozen on Instagram

We’ve had live animals on-site at the Museum since the late 1940s, so we have almost always been lucky to share our spaces with some truly amazing critters. Check out this edition of the MLS Mailbag for more on that!

Certainly, the youngest animals we have are actually insects — you can watch new butterflies and moths emerge from chrysalises at the Emerging Wonders window in the Magic Wings Butterfly House — but our oldest friends might surprise you.

Laurel Walosin, the Museum’s registered veterinary technician, told me that the oldest known age of one of our animals is 33-year-old Gatsby the ball python. Gatsby has exceeded the 20- to 30-year lifespan of the average ball python and continues to be in great health. You may even see him around as part of our animal programs.

The Great Gatsby! Though he throws far fewer parties than his namesake.

But Gatsby isn’t the only golden oldie in these parts. While we don’t know their exact birthdays, a few of our turtles are potentially well into their 30s. There’s also Finch the 28-year-old ball python, Lightning the 24-year-old donkey, and Pepper the 20-year-old chinchilla!

How do birds hear? — Pace

This is the kind of question that surprises me into thinking way too much about every bird I’ve ever seen. And, thanks to what we know about evolution, that thought spiral leads me into wondering if dinosaurs had ears and produces some VERY entertaining mental images.

PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT a real dinosaur. I made this in Canva and I am NOT an authority on dinosaurs. I am not even a scientist, though I did come first place in my elementary school science fair two years in a row.

Back to business. Birds have ear structures just like mammals, but they look SUPER different in appearance from mammalian ears.

“Unlike mammals, birds do not have an external ear structure, which is known as the pinnae in mammals,” Musem vet tech Laurel Walosin said. “Instead, there’s an external ear opening, which looks like a small hole, typically located behind and slightly down from the eye. Birds do still have internal ear structures that are what function to help them hear.”

Unless you’re looking at an ostrich or an emu, you probably won’t see this ear as it’s typically hidden by feathers, like on our lovely model, Wren the chicken!

On the left, we have no ear. On the right, we have ear. On both left and right, we have the most coop-erative (hehe) gal. Great job, Wren.


That’s all for now, y’all! I hope you will join me next time for more questions and more answers.

If you have a question you’d like answered are AMPED about the new donkey emoji, you can drop us a note here.